“Probably the happiest period in life most frequently is in middle age, when the eager passions of youth are cooled, and the infirmities of age not yet begun; as we see that the shadows, which are at morning and evening so large, almost entirely disappear at midday.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
I recently published a post on perimenopause, that 10-15 years preceeding menopause. Today I wanted to emphasize in more detail the psychological shifts and changes that women go through during this stage of mothering. As mentioned in my previous article, this transitional period can bring up many emotions related to lifecycle transitions, and it’s often the perfect time for women to revisit/establish with a psychotherapist (Schneider, 2019). In midlife, a woman may be mourning the loss of opportunities come and gone (ending of fertility), a career change, body changes, aging parents, and launching children. At the same time, she may be excited to begin a new chapter of change with a career shift, more time for her personal pursuits and goals outside of active mothering, perhaps more time with her partner as her children become increasingly independent. It’s an opportunity to harness newfound creativity as the second stage of life ensues (Northrup, 2010). Indeed, there are many psychological shifts that occur during this new stage in motherhood. Read below for 5 changes that can occur during perimenopause:
- The passage to empty nest for many mothers begins during this time period. The notion of mothering as evolving into a less active role (no diaper changes or worries about your kiddo sticking their finger in an electrical socket) transforms the identity of many women who have, for at least two decades, been intensively involved in the caregiving and raising of their children. Worries are still there, like safety of one’s teen behind the wheel of a car, adjustment to college, concerns about young adults and romantic relationships, etc. Emerging adults are entering a fast-paced, competitive, and challenging world. One finds a sense of grieving the loss of the acting mothering that for so long occupied the mother’s heart, time, and energy.
- A new found sense of reclaiming time and space for oneself begins to emerge. The juggle dance of carpool driving, assistance with homework, attending sporting events sandwiched in between a career suddenly gradually falls away to blocks of times that are child free (or perhaps one less child). It may become easier to engage in self care activities like creative pursuits (art classes, travel, etc) as well as finding more time to spend with one’s partner, if in a relationship. Also, younger children may for the first time have more concentrated attention without the competition of their older sibling.
- Just like all the hormonal fluctuations that are happening, women’s emotions also ebb and flow as well during this passage. One day a mom may sob for two hours at the thought of their eldest heading to college and leaving the nest, and the next instant she is relieved she has time to take a relaxing bubble bath before a date night with her husband. Formerly, self care time was less available due to the demands of juggling work and raising young children. Mixed feelings about this life passage are the norm. There is reason to mourn the loss of what is no longer (active mothering and a child who is going to college/trade school/work no longer under one’s roof) while simultaneously celebrating the joy of one’s child’s accomplishments as they launch to adulthood.
- Traumas and losses from the past can and do resurface during changing lifecycle transitions, particularly those that are associated with separation, loss and attachment. It’s a great opportunity for women to (re)-establish with a clinician to address any cycling through trauma/loss circumstances.
- Perimenopause does not have to be the end of the world! It can be a beginning of a new and amazing chapter! Yes, bodies are in flux, so are hormones, and families are stretching and evolving with kiddos leaving the nest. The transition to less active mothering can be a time of energy reclamation, self care, pursuit of personal interests/career passions not before explored, more time with special people (partners, family, friends). Celebrate the passage into a new phase of life and motherhood. One thing is certain in this life: change.
The Menopausal Years: The Wise Woman Way, by Susan Weed
The New Natural Alternatives to HRT, by Marilyn Glenville
Homeopathy for Menopause, by Beth MacEoin
What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause by Dr. John Lee and Virginia Hopkins
Dr. Susan Love’s Hormone Book by Susan Love
Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup, MD
The Wisdom of Menopause by Christiane Northrup, MD
The Power of Perimenopause by Stephanie DeGraff Bender, M.A.
Self-Nurture by Alice Domar, PhD
The Silent Passage by Gail Sheehy
Is It Me or My Hormones?: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly About PMS, Perimenopause, and All the Crazy Things that Occur with Hormone Imbalance by Marcelle Pick.